A Proof That
The Catholic Church Did Not Sell
The so called “selling of indulgences” is a loaded term. Different
people will attach different meanings to those words. I wish
to address that phrase in the sense of :
Did the Catholic ever teach that a person could buy grace?
To which I offer the following proof that the answer is NO !
To simply sell something means that the exchange of money is the sole
cause of the thing in question to be transferred from one person to the
other. It is solely the exchange of money regardless of the
person's faith and irrespective of their moral disposition toward God
that causes the transfer. If there are other factors such as moral
disposition or faith, then it is not selling.
There are two types of punishment that comes with sin. There is the
guilt we incur which would result in the eternal separation from God and
going to hell. Jesus enables us to avoid that outcome by partaking in
the redemptive grace won for us by the life, passion, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, there is a second type of punishment.
It is not that God is looking for an opportunity to punish us, but
rather because of the very nature of sin it wounds the spiritual
goodness that God wishes us to have. By His grace we can not only be
forgiven, but also healed of this wound, and spiritual sickness.
Even when King David is told by the prophet Nathan that God has forgiven
him for his adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah, he is told
that his son must die. Sin is not just the breaking of “arbitrary rules”
of God, it causes a break in the spiritual world.
2 Samuel 12:13-14 or
For example, when might be forgiven for breaking a window, but we are
still obligated to replace the window, to repair the wound we caused. By
the generous grace of Jesus Christ, He enables us to accomplish that.
The Bible explains how donations of money for charitable and godly
purposes when done with a good heart helps to heal us from this second
type of punishment that results from sin.
1 Peter 4:8
“ … love covers a multitude of sins.”
“For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.”
See sidebar :
Biblical Injunctions to Use Material Wealth to gain grace.
So, we need to ask,
Did Jesus or the Bible teach we can buy grace ?
Can a person, regardless good will and faith in Jesus, obtain grace for
a simple exchange and purchase with money ?
The answer is NO !
Even though these particular verses of the Bible above do state that a
person’s heart and their faith must humbly be placed under the Lordship
of Jesus Christ, the overall context of the whole Bible implies this
Similarly, the context of the Catholic Church's teaching must be
taken into account on how she meant for the indulgences to be
administered. Even the proclamation by Pope Leo X in Martin
Luther's day clearly implied a person's heart had to be repentant and
reconciled with God. Even those attacking the Catholic Church
admit that the granting of indulgences during the time of Martin Luther
necessarily included the Sacrament of Confession. In order for the
Sacrament of Confession to be valid it must include a sincere and
penitential reform of a person’s heart. The sinner must repent and make
a firm purpose of amendment to turn away from sin.
For example, even D'Aubigne, who wished to attack the Catholic Church
admitted that the Catholic Church required this conversion of heart. So,
the simple exchange of money did not buy the indulgence, it did not buy
the grace. D'Aubigne admits this was the case at the time of Martin
I will not deny that Indulgences have been
abused; but are not
the most sacred things liable to be
perverted? This is a proper place to refer
briefly to the
Bull of Pope Leo X
proclaiming the Indulgence which afforded Luther a pretext for
his apostasy. Leo determined to bring to completion the
magnificent Church of St. Peter, commenced by his predecessor,
Julius II. With that view he issued a Bull promulgating an
Indulgence to such as would contribute some voluntary offering
toward the erection of the grand cathedral.
Those, however, who contributed nothing shared equally in the
treasury of the Church, provided they complied with the
essential conditions for gaining the Indulgence.
The only indispensable conditions enjoined by the Papal Bull
sincere repentance and confession of sins.
D'Aubigne admits this truth, though in a
faltering manner, when he observes that "in the Pope's Bull
something was said of the repentance of the heart and the
confession of the lips."[ History of the Great Reformation in
Germany and Switzerland by
D'Aubigné, Vol. I. p. 214.]
The applicants for the Indulgence knew well that, no matter how
munificent were their offerings, these would avail them nothing
without true contrition of heart.
No traffic or sale of Indulgences was,
consequently, authorized or countenanced by the Head of the
Church, since the contributions were understood to be voluntary.
In order to check any sordid love of gain in those charged with
preaching the Indulgence,
that delivered the Indulgence," as D'Aubigne testifies,
not receive the money: that was forbidden under the severest
D'Aubigne, the inflexible Pope insisted on the
of the heart and confession of the lips" before the
donor's offering could avail him to salvation.
John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who had been
appointed the chief preacher to announce the Indulgence in
Germany, was accused by Luther of exceeding his powers by making
them subservient to his own private ends.
Tetzel's conduct was disavowed and condemned by the
representative of the Holy See.
See full article,
Indulgences by Cardinal Gibbons
Here we must clarify and distinguish between the false accusation that
the Catholic Church taught grace could be sold, or the claim she taught
that the Church could “sell indulgences” with what really happened.
What really happened is that John Tetzel and other wayward preachers
pretended or at least allowed themselves to be understood to be selling
indulgences contrary to Church teaching.
Please consider the following example.
Suppose a thief breaks into your house, takes your car keys and your car and
then proceeds to “sell” your car to
another person. Did he actually sell your car ? Did the ownership of the car
really transfer to the third person ? The answer is NO. You are still
the true owner of your car. He did not truly sell – transfer ownership –
of your car. He only pretended to do so.
Pope Leo X clearly did not approve of John Tetzel’s misrepresentation of
indulgences. And Luther knew this. In #50 of his 95 Thesis he states :
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the
exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St.
Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built
up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
Martin Luther's 95 Thesis
Even before Martin Luther the Catholic Church was clear that the overall
context of indulgences did not permit them to be sold.
The context of how Indulgences were to be understood and obtained can be
seen in the corrective measure of abuses that happened before Martin
Council of Mainz in 1261
The medieval pardoner, depicted by Chaucer in the Pardoner's Tale, was
often an unscrupulous rascal, whose dishonesty and fraud were condemned
by the Bishops of the time. We find orders for their arrest in Germany
at the Council of Mainz in 1261, and in England by order of the Bishop
of Durham in 1340. To indict the Church for these abuses,
as Lea does in his History of
Confession and Indulgences (iii., 284-295), is manifestly
Even before Martin Luther the Catholic Church has continually throughout
history corrected Indulgence abuses. See actions taken in
AD 747, 1392, 1450, and 1478
See sidebar article :
Correction of Indulgences Abuses and Misunderstandings,
John Tetzel did a dismal job of presenting the full context of how
indulgences are to be understood. Since the official Catholic
teaching never authorized him to sell indulgences, he at most only
pretended to sell indulgences. See car thief
In the 16th century, when the abuse of indulgences was at its
height, Cardinal Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio, 1469-1534) wrote about the
problem: "Preachers act in the name of the Church so long as they
teach the doctrines of Christ and the Church; but if they teach,
guided by their own minds and arbitrariness of will, things of which
they are ignorant, they cannot pass as representatives of the
Church; it need not be wondered at that they go astray."
See full article
Does the Catholic Church still sell
Indulgences ?l indulgences?
Myths about Indulgences, Myth # 7
The Catholic Church never taught that Indulgences could be sold, or
that grace could be bought. The full context of the indulgences
promoted by the Popes and Councils precluded that from being a valid
understanding of Catholic Church teaching.
MARY MORAL ISSUES
HOME - DEFENDING
to Use Material Wealth to gain grace
“Water extinguishes a blazing fire:
so almsgiving atones for sin.”
“Almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going
into the dark abode.
11 Alms are a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High
for all who give them.” NAB
“No good will come to the man who persists in evil
or to him who does not give alms.”
“Store up almsgiving in your treasure house,
and it will save you from every evil”
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as
the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that
they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have
received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let
your left hand know what your right hand is doing …”
“You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside
also? 41 But give for alms those things which are within;
and behold, everything is clean for you.”
“Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and
righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than
much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to
treasure up gold. 9 For almsgiving delivers from death, and
it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of
charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life”
This passage from Tobit speaks of the
expiation of sin through faithful works done in love
(almsgiving) - another clear reason why
had to throw it out. because he claimed Faith
Alone covers our sins. But let's look at how the NT
deals with this.
“About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision
an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4
And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it,
Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have
ascended as a memorial before God.”
Remember, this Cornelius was a Roman centurian who was God
fearing in that he respected the God of the Jews, but did
not yet know Christ...yet God still recognized his
“Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have
been remembered before God.”
1 Peter 4:8
“ … love covers a multitude of sins.”
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of
unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive
you into the eternal habitations. … 13
You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Correction of Indulgences’
Abuses and Misunderstandings,
from Catholic Encyclopedia
Thus the Council of Clovesho in
England (747) condemns those who imagine that they might
atone for their crimes by substituting, in place of their
own, the austerities of mercenary penitents. …
Boniface IX, writing to the Bishop of Ferrara in 1392,
condemns the practice of certain religious who falsely
claimed that they were authorized by the pope to forgive all
sorts of sins, and exacted money from the simple- minded
among the faithful by promising them perpetual happiness in
this world and eternal glory in the next. …
In 1450 Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, Apostolic Legate to
Germany, found some preachers asserting that indulgences
released from the guilt of sin as well as from the
punishment. This error, due to a misunderstanding of the
words "a culpa et a poena", the cardinal condemned at the
Council of Magdeburg. Finally, Sixtus IV in 1478, lest the
idea of gaining indulgences should prove an incentive to
sin, reserved for the judgment of the Holy See a large
number of cases in which faculties had formerly been granted
to confessors (Extrav. Com., tit. de poen. et remiss.).
Traffic in Indulgences
These measures show plainly that the Church long before the
Reformation, not only recognized the existence of abuses,
but also used her authority to correct them. …
Again, it is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good
works which might be encouraged by being made the condition
of an indulgence, alms giving would naturally hold a
conspicuous place, while men would be induced by the same
means to contribute to some pious cause such as the building
of churches, the endowment of hospitals, or the organization
of a crusade. It is well to observe that in these purposes
there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or
to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from
right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded. …
While it cannot be denied that these abuses were widespread,
it should also be noted that, even when corruption was at
its worst, these spiritual grants were being properly used
by sincere Christians, who sought them in the right spirit,
and by priests and preachers, who took care to insist on the
need of true repentance. It is therefore not difficult to
understand why the Church, instead of abolishing the
practice of indulgences, aimed rather at strengthening it by
eliminating the evil elements.
Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913